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The Heart of the Bush

6. Head, hands and heart

6. Head, hands and heart

It is always attractive as a reader to imagine that the author has embedded some of themselves into a text. Grossmann’s passion for social justice was reflected in her passionate work for gaining women’s’ franchise in New Zealand, and her belief in education was a way for all people to better engage with the world. Grossmann’s original Adelaide Borlase bears little resemblance to the Aidie MacDiarmid she becomes, and both these fictive characters seem far too flighty to bear much relation to the sober and hard-working Grossmann. While Grossmann’s life cannot be understood, or reconstructed, there is a body of work from which to draw some conclusions.

There is a sense of hope that pervades through The Heart of the Bush that allows for the possibility of a happy and fulfilling marriage. At the end of a romantic plot, most readers are happy to have the lovers united; certainly they will have suffered a few trials on the way, because the path to true love is never straightforward. What is more interesting, in general, is to have some kind of new version of events; a full engagement of the head, with the hands and the heart, to be completely invested in the new regimen. Grossman has managed to have two characters who each make some recognisable sacrifice to be together, and it is this idea of compromise, completeness, and an equality in marriage as the primary relationship on which society is founded that is the foreshadowing of the demands of modern relationships.

Rebecca Burns has reflected on the future that awaited the young woman who wrote ‘Spare Half-hours’ in 1894. Grossmann mused that many an artist may have been diverted from success by ‘obstacles’, and had their ‘finest gifts… trampled down’ because of the circumstances of life. Grossmann frames her thoughts around the opportunities available for women, but doesn’t limit herself to gender. What concerns her are the pressing needs of a young nation: the building, growing, exporting, feeding, clothing, and entertaining of a population, and identifies the ‘uneasy self-consciousness’42 that echoes as a truth for New Zealanders even today. The life that Grossmann might have expected to have ahead of here was most likely very different to the one she had: as a newly-wed, with a recently published novel, she would hardly imagine that her husband would be imprisoned for fraud, their son would be handicapped, and she would have to work for the remainder of her life to support her family. The outcomes for Aidie and Dennis are also open ended; who is to know what happens to these two and their unborn child in the future.

It is open-ended, and though the past is now written, every future remains unknown. To gain the most pleasure from the novel, it is best for the reader to keep the settler context of the book in mind. Grossmann has managed to draw the three threads of the novel into a united work, as each of the parts holds in tension; art and culture pulls against nature and the bush, which in turn, holds a balance with agriculture and economics. These are elements that still resonate: the bush, which remains dense and rich with portent, and the farm, which has fed a nation, have become iconographic for New Zealand-ness.

Patrick Evans makes a tough assessment of The Heart of the Bush, but even as he does so he remains sympathetic towards the text, in part, because it reminds us ‘what we have agreed to forget in order to go on living together.’ No new venture can succeed without managing the trinity of Art, Nature and Commerce, a concern as familiar to readers in the early part of the twentieth century, as it is today. Grossmann is rehabilitated into the canon of New Zealand literature through this novel which seeks, in its own conventionally romantic way, to imagine something a little different, to imagine another way of living together. It is, then, the living together which is at the heart of the matter, which is at the heart of every settler narrative, romantic quest, economic enterprise, or fairy tale. It is part of a universal story and therefore at the heart of the bush.

42 Grossmann, Edith Searle ‘Spare Half-hours. Genius and Talent in the Colony’ Otago Witness 2108. 19 July 1894. 47. http://www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=OW18940719.2.184&srpos=1&e=-------10--1-byDA---0spare+halfZz-hours+edith+searle+grossmann--. Accessed 23 May 2011.